Monday, October 22, 2012


DARK DECEPTION. Negrita Magdalena (with husband Felix) was a loyal companion to a rich Bambanense woman who eventually willed her property upon her death. Unschooled and illiterate, Magdalena found herself in the middle of legal intrigues, stirred by her mistress's relative who claimed she was ineligible to inherit such great wealth.

The controversial Dean C. Worcester once caused an indignant stir among Filipinos when he wrote about the existence of slavery and peonage in the Philippines. The charge did not sit well on Filipinos, which prompted Mr. Worcester to cite the story of a Negrita named Magdalena, and her extraordinary relationship with her mistress, Dña. Petrona David. His intent, he clarified, was not to condemn, but to praise their inspiring story, that began in the border town of Bamban, in Tarlac province. 

Doña Petrona David was a prominent resident of this town, a widow with no children. One day, she chanced upon a Negrito selling “bulu” ( a bamboo specie) in town. She not only bought the bamboo but also took a fancy to his 5 children—3 girls and 2 boys-- who had tagged along with their father. The kind doña singled out the young Magdalena, a true child of the mountains and the wilderness of Tarlac. Magdalena was thus introduced to Dña. Petrona, and from the day on she would come to her house to help and run errands for her. When her parents died, the Bamban lady took the 7-year old Magdalena to her house and had her baptized. The illiterate Negrita thus lived with her, dutifully serving her needs, until her mistress got terminally sick.

Dña. Petrona died on 31 October 1919 and left behind property valued at Php15,000, a substantial sum in those days. But six months before her demise, Dña. Petrona had executed a will, bequeathing one third of her property to her trusted Magdalena, whom she had come to regard as her own daughter. Such was her generosity because, to use the words of her last will and testament “she has rendered me great service, serving me with loyal and sincere love, since she was baptized, and never separating herself from my side from that time up to the present date”.

There was a practical reason too, why the well-to-do lady did not leave all her property to her nearest relatives.”I know them as spendthrifts”, she noted, an observation she put in her will; she left a third of it to them anyway. The remaining 1/3 of her property was given to Don Pablo Rivera, manager of the David estate. Don Pablo was also named as administrator of the will. All hell broke loose as the David relatives, as expected, contested the legality of the will, and they pursued the case for two years—all the way up to the Supreme Court. But on 24 June 1922, the highest tribunal of the land declared the will, legal, authentic and binding.

You would think that this decision would have put closure to Magdalena’s woes so she could finally enjoy her just reward. But as the poor girl was unschooled, and unlettered, intrigues followed her wherever she went. Bambanenses could not understand why the Negrita should not be divested of her legacy due to her ignorance. People wagged their tongues to ask: “what would she do with the money and property anyway?”

But little did they know that Magdalena’s one extraordinaty expense is the Php70 that she shells out on the anniversary of her mistress’ death—to buy candles which are lit in her honor, and to pay for the little gathering in the house where prayers are said in memory of her adoptive mother. Every year, the Negrita alone remembers the memory of the late lady.

Fortunately for Magdalena, Judge Juan Sumulong came to her rescue in 1925. Sumulong was known for being an upright lawyer and he vowed to defend her interests as her guardian. Meanwhile, the administrator of the will has seen to it that apparently and legally, the property willed to the Negrita should become his own property too. We do not know the resolution of this case as this account, which was covered by the Philippine Free Press, ends here, a cliff hanger story of deception and trickery, with the clear intent to despoil the poor Negrita Magdalena of her just and rightful legacy.

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